9. Alternate Reality

Alternate Reality

For your name’s sake O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.

Psalm 25:11

When it came time to return to Sammamish after our weekend with dad, mom and Lee were greeted by two boys who demonized them. They dropped off two relatively neutral children and picked up dragon whelps. Dad’s unending defensive rants, bending of the truth and resentful blame-shifting poisoned our impressionable minds. It only took a few days though before we were de-venomed. 

Despite the pesky pebbles we tossed at them from dad’s chipped shoulder, mom and Lee were good to us. Lee allowed each of us to choose one large gift when his bonus came around. I wanted a drum set and Austin chose a computer. I tried to reclaim the drummer boy title and make David Raven1 proud, but I never wanted to take drum lessons. After a month, two at most, I never touched them again. Lee eventually sold it back to the store for less than half of what he paid for it.

Austin made better use of his computer. This first computer established a foundation for him in the world of technology as he became tech savvy over the years, teaching himself out how to bootleg music, movies and games, make websites and accomplish other techy tasks. A few years later, when in high school, Austin intentionally hacked the security of the high school and reported the findings of the holes in their cybersecurity. Though he could have changed all of his and any student’s grades to A’s, he resisted the urge. 

Lee didn’t just buy stuff, he took us on a few adventures too. He brought both of us and Austin’s friend Tanner shooting once. Austin and Tanner went out the night before trash pickup. With everyone’s recycling bins placed on the street, they gathered about one hundred bottles.

The next day Lee took the three of us to a secluded ledge up the side of a mountain off of I-90’s exit 47, between the city of Snoqualamie and the pass. I took one end of the recycling bin while Austin gripped the other. After the most difficult half mile, low grade hike of my eleven year old life, we reached the perfect spot. 

Lee brought a wooden perch to place the bottles on. We’d never fired any gun more powerful than a .22 caliber. Lee brought his magnum long-barreled revolver with both .357 and 9mm cylinders, and a 9mm semi-automatic Ruger. Austin and Tanner went first. They obliterated some wine and beer bottles from ten feet. When my turn came, I took aim with the .357 revolving hand cannon. 

Fighting hard to align the sights with my feeble wrists and shoulders that barely kept steady, I let off a shot. The gun bucked hard, jerking my quivering hands within a few inches of my forehead. I was surprised to see the taper between the belly and the narrowing canal of the bottle disappear while the neck collapsed down an inch. I could now add a suffix to my name: Ryan de Coup-Crank, decapitator of bottles.

Though we thoroughly enjoyed this glassy destruction for the majority of our days we were mentally and emotionally stranded and our interpersonal needs unwittingly neglected. Lee took us on another outing backpacking for the first time, but these events were separated by many months of emotionlessness as Lee recovered from his hearty involvement with television and movies. Mom’s stress hormones ran rampant as she clamored to collect her world that caved in around her, forcing her to focus almost exclusively on survival. Dad stewed in his own bitter reality, only to soil us in it every-other weekend. Our grandparents would have given us much more aid, but Jack and Shirley, or Pops and Nani as we grandkids called them, lived seven-hundred miles south while grandma and grandpa Shearin resided four-hundred and fifty miles further. 

We basked in the much needed reprieve from our mundane lives when our extended family greeted us during our visits to California. We enjoyed spending time with both mom’s and dad’s family, though we had more cousins on dad’s side and partook in their Christmas Eve tradition. A big party always occurred at aunt Peggy’s house. 

The whole crew showed up. Dozens of people from three generations filled the single story home. Laughter always ensued as Dad, Peggy, Jenny and Steve ricocheted banter between themselves with witty remarks. Pops’ gut laugh spread as an airborne contagion that rippled through the crowd, infecting us all with cackles until we cried. 

When it came time to leave, the tears of joy turned to tears of mourning.  While in the terminal waiting for our flight, I called my cousins on the payphone one last time, hoping to extend the joy a few minutes longer through the telephone wires. I longed for what we left in California.

After the holiday cheer subsided, our limp bodies rolled back down into the crater left from the divorce. My brother and I fell prey to what our forefathers did. Both of us became shells dissociated from our inner being. The pressure from being sandwiched between the conflict ejected our spirits into the ether. I wandered through life like my mother. I found escape through addiction like my father. Video games became my alcohol.

Before mom and dad split the hypnotization began. Super Mario Bros was my jam. I played it one morning before church when dad told me, “Get off there, those games will turn your mind into mush!” I didn’t believe him. 

Dad was right though. As the years followed past the divorce, my gaming habit took root. Final Fantasy VII was the first game I unlocked every detail of. I had at least three save files with the played timer maxed out at ninety-nine hours. Maybe five hundred hours were invested in total.

My first fantasy was not my final fantasy. I ventured through many more video games as they transported me to unlimited Neverlands where I could be a lost boy and never grow up. They made me feel good. I could be the hero and slay dragons if I only put in enough time. Once I burned out on one game, I grabbed the next. When a new, cooler console came out, it was the only gift I wanted for Christmas.

Real life sucked compared to games. I’d walk to school thinking about them, itching to get back to finish the next challenge. My reading comprehension stalled greatly because my mind wandered between sentences as I thought of them. I could decipher most words in the Goosebumps books I read, but understood none of the story. I arrived at the end of one and all I remembered was that an island existed in it. This lack of interest in life persisted as I hopped from one television fairytale to the next.

By the time I turned twelve, a second addiction emerged. Sandwiched between my lust for video games was a lust for women. Pornography captivated my virgin eyes. The allure of curvy bodies awakened my raging hormones. On a few occasions mom found evidence of my internet scandals as pop-ups suddenly spammed my parent’s computer. She knew Lee wasn’t to blame. 

Fear caused me to hide. Hiding caused me to isolate myself. Isolation reopened me to the succubus calling me beyond her creaking door. Recommitting the sin led to shame, which perpetuated the cycle.

Though the Christian doctrine states that once we believe in him, Jesus removes our guilt and shame, I felt a spirit of oppression instead. “You only need to be baptized and saved once,” they said. I felt the need to be born again every week, the sermons clawing at my best kept secrets. 

A youth pastor once spoke about one of Jesus’ hyperbolic statements. “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go to hell.”2 Jesus’ original intent must have been to condemn his hearers for masturbating. Of course Jesus would never allow his listeners to put their hands down their pants, or on that day, under their cloaks. Jesus caught me white-handed. What can I do to wash this lemon-scented lotion from my hands? Nothing…well, maybe I could saw it off.

Though I was a virgin, according to Jesus I was an adulterer. “You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”3 Though physically I’d never experienced sex, according to him I was a man-whore with my own private brothel.

Certainly I was hell-bound. Even though I prayed and claimed to believe Jesus died for me, none of this helped with my burden. I tried at times to manifest tears, hoping my sincere apology could fend off God’s wrath. I sang love songs to God, exclaiming that He is everything and I am nothing, not knowing these lyrics widened the gap between us. 

I felt alone, my lips locked shut from ever seeking a person with whom my confession of unforgivable sins would elicit anything other than a death sentence. Every time I returned to wallow in my own filth, I’d look at myself in the mirror disgusted, ashamed that I let myself down. My hopeless shell apologized to the kid staring back at him. Somehow, miraculously, underneath all the heaps and rocks, a kernel of faith never died.

Still, I couldn’t escape my self-created prison. Unknowingly I sought survival through distraction. I figured nothing was wrong. Although the divorce was long past, I never realized how broken I truly was, and that the shame overwhelming me through my grasping for pleasure could be traced back to the wounds that began when I was six, and the fallout of unintentional but no less pernicious neglect. A fish would never know he’s swimming in polluted water unless he finds a pure stream. 

Though I assumed I lived a normal life having food on the table and shelter over my head, I never realized how far from ideal my life was. With addictions and inadequacies mounting like my father’s, my budding intellect was becoming mush just as he predicted. My drug of choice however, was an alternate reality.

  1. During my dad’s pursuit of a career in Hollywood and music, before I could even speak, he solicited a signature from a drummer named David Raven on my behalf. Raven’s songs found their way into popular shows such as  shows such as Parks and Recreation and Sons of Anarchy and has compositions featured on the Ellen Degeneres Show and noteworthy movies such as Brokeback Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. He graciously gifted a drumhead etched with bright pink ink. There were two hand-drawn bongo drums, swirly aesthetics, a signature and an exhortation that read, “Keep drumming Ryan!” His drumhead hung on the same spot in my room for many years, reminding me daily of my disobedience to his kind words.
  2. Matthew 5:30
  3. Matthew 5:28

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